Dev Update: Tech tree revamp, Synergies & Improvements, Weapon Tier Balance

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In last month’s dev update, I discussed the new ship crew XP and salvage system, Temporal Rift investigations, diplomacy AI improvements, and details of a complete overhaul of the galaxy generation code and planet distributions. A lot has happened since that patch went live, and overall it’s definitely been a productive month. We had some disappointment when Predestination was unfortunately rejected by GOG.com, but we made great progress on the tech trees, iterated on several features based on feedback, and laid the ground work for victory conditions. We also had some internal discussions about the increased competition in the 4X genre and spent some time writing a report on Predestination for NI Screen (a company who gave us a small business loan last year). And there was some really happy news too as our Project Manager Tina Lauro and our Art Director Steven Pollock got married (to each other!).

Read on for a preview of the tech trees as they will be in the next major update and details of new weapons technologies in addition to changes to terraforming, shield facing, weapon mods, and more. We’ll also take a brief look at work on the start sequence and victory screen that will let us tell the story of Predestination.

revamp

The next big update (V0.9.2.0) was originally going to add victory conditions to the game as well the Revenant Planet event, and in order to do this we were going to add tech era 4 with mostly placeholder technologies. We then planned to add the rest of the technologies and do a balance pass over the tech trees in a future patch. When we started working on this, however, we found it made more sense to fully revamp the tech trees first and add the victory conditions after even though the tech trees are a monumental task that requires a lot more work.

As part of this work, we’ve implemented and balanced dozens of new weapons, ship modules and other technologies. We’ve also implemented the Synergies and Improvements tech tree, which contains small improvements on some weapons and bonus technologies for combining sets of two technologies from different tech trees. The new technologies need a fair amount of bug-fixing and testing before we can deploy them in a patch, but you can get a preview in this post and we expect the patch to land very soon as patch V0.9.2.0. Below are the finished tech trees. Note that there are a few placeholder technologies still to fill, some racial variants still to design, and room for more techs in the Sociology tree if we decide to add more:

The introduction of the fourth tech era means we had to rebalance the progression of technology research costs. Research costs now follow the curve below, with tech eras 1 and 2 requiring a bit less research to acquire and the technologies in era 3 and 4 rising more steeply to take into account the expansion rate of a growing empire. This era contains all of the advanced weapons and endgame technologies such as the Stellar Converter, Damper Field, Titan and Dread Star ship hulls, Phasors, Stasis Field and Temporal Shields.  Most of the technology arms race will happen in the third and fourth eras, when the game will really start to heat up as borders meet.

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changes

  • Terraforming: Based on player feedback, the Terraforming technology is being changed to “Weather Control Satellite” and it will now terraform a planet automatically toward your race’s ideal climate by 1% each turn. Players will now pay metal and money once to launch the satellite rather than spending money and energy to terraform planets in chunks. We’re also considering giving fully terraformed planets a further bonus.  Some players have suggested giving them an extra city, which would be huge, but we could also make it a bonus to tax, research, population, or anything else. We’re eager to hear your feedback on this before we implement it.
  • Genesis Device: The Genesis Device was buggy and not much of a superweapon when deployed against enemy worlds, and some players were confused when they launched it at a Barren planet and nothing happened. We’re changing the Genesis Device to now work only on Barren, Toxic and Molten planets and to instantly terraform the planet to Terran. It will re-generate the planet’s resources (so it can spawn fertile soil etc), and instantly destroy all structures on the planet if it’s inhabited. As part of this change, we’ll be making the bombing interface show up on uninhabited worlds if you have weapons to fire at them. The Genesis Device will be expensive to build, will only fit on a warp-capable missile or probe hull, and will be a single-use weapon so the probe/missile will be destroyed when it’s used.
  • Ground Cannons: Instead of firing Laser Beams, Ground Cannons will now fire one unit of the best beam weapon available, and will consume 1 energy per MW that beam weapon uses e.g. Fusion Beam uses 35 energy per shot and Graviton Beams use 50.
  • Fighters: Fighters will still carry one unit of your best Beam or Projectile weapon (based on whichever is your most advanced), but in the case of projectile weapons it will deal half damage to account for the fact that projectiles now use twice the power grid of beam weapons.
  • Random Damage: All weapons except Beam and Projectile weapons now deal flat damage, while Beam and Projectile weapons roll damage to 2 x damage as before. This means missiles and bombs always deal full damage if they hit. City Shields also now block more damage so that beams are less effective against them but bombs and projectiles are very effective.
  • Weapon mods: Modifications to weapons such as Heavy Mount and Point Defense are no longer different versions of the weapon, but are instead passive bonuses that are applied to that weapon when in your race’s hands. Heavy Laser Beam increases range by 1 and damage by 10%, for example, and point defense doubles damage on reactive strikes. It’s possible to have multiple modifications simultaneously if your race is creative or if you trade for the other modifications with other races.
  • Shield Facing: Currently all shields have 6 faces but they’re all tied into a single hitpoint pool. We’ve decided to change this so that all 6 faces have independent hitpoints, so with clever positioning you can get more effective hitpoints out of a shield. We’ve heard some great ideas from the community about new shield modules we could add in future expansions, such as ones that let you transfer energy from one shield face to another.

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weapons

To put together the final tech trees, we needed to flesh out the number of weapons and modules available in the game in a way that introduces them periodically and makes them fairly easy to balance. To do this, we created five of each type of  Beam Weapon, Projectile Weapon, Bomb, Missile, Ship Drive, Sensor, Rifle, Shield, and Armour, and divided them into five broad tiers staggered evenly throughout the game’s four technology eras. Each technology’s tier was used when calculating its damage, power grid usage, hit points and other stats, and many of the tier 5 technologies are reserved for the Revenants or might be given by rare commanders and events. We put together a spreadsheet to figure out stats and settled on stats that resulted in clear progression (example section below):

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Once we figured out stats and a progression model that worked on paper, we ran the numbers on a theoretical Frigate, Cruiser, Battleship, Titan, and Dreadnought ship of each tier and worked out how many shots each ship would have to fire at an identical ship in order to destroy it. According to our calculations, a balanced ship using 50% of its power grid for weapons and 50% for defenses should be able to survive an average of 5 full attacks from identical ships of the same size and tech level before it’s destroyed. Players may choose to add more weapons or more defenses as they see fit to modify this balance, and tactics will of course have a large impact on the outcome. This setup appears to be balanced on paper, and of course we’ll have to see what happens when it goes into testing and will pay close attention to your feedback.

Weapon special effects

In addition to each weapon tier having increased damage, many weapons have special effects that make them more unique. For example, the Graviton Beam has a chance of detonating unfired missiles and bombs on the enemy ship and the Phasor beam partially cuts through shields. We also use Improvements to add bonus effects to weapons and make the most advanced weapons even more powerful:

  1. Laser Beam: A 25MW ship weapon that uses highly focused beams of light to damage shields and armour, dealing 10-20 damage in an Extended arc at a range of up to 4 hexes. Beam weapon damage dissipates by 5% damage per hex distance.
  2. Fusion Beam: A 35MW ship weapon that uses a phased proton beam to cause instantaneous fusion on contact with the shields and armour of enemy ships, dealing 25-50 damage in an Extended arc with range 4. Fusion Beams rapidly lose cohesion the further the target is from the emitter, losing 10% damage per hex range instead of the usual 5%.
  3. Graviton Beam: A powerful 50MW ship weapon that tears enemy vessels apart with waves of gravimetric energy, dealing 40-80 damage in an extended arc with a range of 5. Graviton Beams have a 10% chance to detonate each unfired enemy missile or bomb instantly for additional damage.
  4. Phasor Beam: An advanced 70MW ship weapon that fires a beam which exists partially out of phase with our universe, allowing 25% of the beam to bypass the target’s shields entirely and strike its armour. Deals 80-160 damage in an Extended arc with a range of 6.
  5. Particle Beam: A devastating 100MW beam weapon used by the Revenants which fires a focused stream of energetic particles at near light speed, dealing 160-320 damage in an Extended arc at a range of up to 7 hexes. The beam can’t be reflected by the Reflection Field and is naturally armour-piercing, dealing double damage to a ship’s armour if it penetrates the shields.

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synergies

We’ve implemented the Synergies and Improvements system discussed in the previous dev update, which contains special bonus technologies that you can unlock depending on your choices in the four main trees. The left hand side of the new tech tree contains Improvement technologies (highlighted as light blue stars) which are simple improvements of existing tech. For example, if you research Laser Beam then you can select from the three improvements Heavy Laser Beam, Point Defense Laser Beam, and High-Focus Laser Beam. Creative races can pick multiple improvements, and you can trade for improvements you don’t have if another race picked it up.

The right hand side of the tree contains Synergies (highlighted as purple stars), which unlock only once you research both requirements. These are special bonuses gained by combining research in different fields together, such as combining the Mass Driver and Tritanium Armour technologies together to make armour-piercing mass drivers. Synergies are occasionally used to reward players for selecting a slightly underpowered choice in one of the main tech trees, and we’ve left a little room for more in there if we feel some technologies are underpowered later.

The final tech era in this tech tree contains the research path that leads to the scientific victory condition. This requires you to research four different technologies (one from the end of each of the tech trees) and then research a series of technologies that let you come up with a way to get back to the future and a battle plan to beat the Revenants. Once you have all of this in place, you can research the Scientific Victory to win the game. The actual victory condition will be activated in V0.9.3.0 but the technologies are going in now.

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startsequence

We developed a new animated slideshow system that will be used in the splash screen, start sequence, and victory screen. We’re starting off with just some logos on the splash screen in the next update, and we’ll add the storyline start sequence once we get a chance to put the artwork together for it. We’ll also be using this system on the Victory screen to tell a story of what happens after the game ends, which will depend on which victory condition you meet (Galactic Domination, Destroy the Revenants, Scientific Victory, Diplomatic Victory, and a fifth secret ending). The Credits screen was also developed this month, which will be finished off and activated when we get a chance to put together a list of all of our Kickstarter backers etc for credits. There are a lot of people to thank in there!

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Bonus photo from Steven and Tina’s wedding:

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Thanks to everyone who has supported Predestination so far, and a special thanks to those who have been recommending Predestination to 4X fans online who are looking for a game that follows in the spirit and design intent of classics like Master of Orion II. Patch V0.9.2.0 will be out soon with all of the new technologies, and victory conditions will be released shortly after.

— Brendan, Lead Developer

About Brendan Drain

Director @ Brain and Nerd

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